As we enjoy the sounds and smells of our Christmas — roast turkey, excited children, and the amicable throng of the communion table — they are different from the first Christmas. Its outward smells and signs are dung, urine, and the sounds of fear as a child is born under reprobate appearance.
But nothing we have can match the glory of that Bethlehem Christmas. For here the Son of God has come into the world; here in the frailty of human flesh is veiled the glory of the King of Kings, the Christ, the Lord. Here the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty Redeemer, the Lord Sabbath, has become Immanuel, God with us. And this splendour is hidden behind the veil of his humanity, our humanity. For in this scene, and to his death, we see Christ under the condition of a servant, under the condition of the stable. All this, John tells us, for our sake (John 3:16).
Most who pass through his presence only see the stable, and misunderstand, totally miscomprehend, and are either bored like a Herod, contemptuous like the High Priest, avaricious like a Judas, or manipulative like the Apostle Peter. They will kill him as the servant, the scion of the stable; and spurn his love, reject the forgiving grace which cried out, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they do!”
But the grace of God will triumph. Peter will weep, and an army of believers, who throw themselves on his faithfulness, will follow; and we will have our Christmas, as his church. The church of Jesus Christ will be founded on this rock of the covenant — this nativity, obedient life and death, and resurrection of its Lord.
What is the true condition of this church of the nativity? Like its master, the outward appearance of the true church is shabby, weak, and misunderstood. We are in the condition of the stable. And, like the Christ, we await the unveiling of the glory which is hidden by the present facade of our suffering and ignominy, if we follow in his footsteps. For if we share in his death, we will share in his resurrection.
Why are we in the form of the servant, the condition of the stable? Because we have been redeemed to serve Him, and each other; and under the same conditions of a fallen world which has the Kingdom proclaimed to it, responds rather diffidently, and awaits the final coming of the King when he returns to his glory. Because the course of our life is tied to the course of the life of the Son of God, it is fitting that we also be in the lowly condition of the stable — which hides our true glory, the glory of heaven.
The stable of Bethlehem reminds us where and whence we came, and who we now are. It is a time of thankful humility, and joyful glory. And it damns all our attempts at ecclesiastical pride, titles and dignities, and summons us instead to the all consuming servanthood, sonship, and glory of Immanuel, the Son of God, in the stable.
From the Vault of the ACR, first published December 15, 1986.